In the world of luxury real estate, it’s all about showing prospective buyers all the possibilities, all in a matter of minutes.
What do luxury buyers want? That’s the proverbial $64 million question in Chicago’s recovering high-end condo market. And it’s the question award-winning interior designer Jessica Lagrange faced when she was hired by JDL Development to furnish the model apartments at Two West Delaware, a glassy 201-unit Gold Coast high-rise that was originally completed in 2010 and which the developer purchased in 2017 with aims to update 153 condos that hadn’t sold initially.
Gourmet kitchens, spa-quality bathrooms and chic furnishings are essential in model units when you’re wooing luxury buyers. But so are aesthetics. “The looming question is always which way to go: clean and contemporary, comfy and classic, or modern with an edge?” Lagrange points out. “It’s tricky. You need to show all the potential buyers— regardless of their age or particular style— how a space will feel and live.”
Complicating matters, the building has two very different targets: millennials with burgeoning families, and baby boomers looking to scale down. Making those design decisions even more critical is consumer behavior.
“Buyers need to get a feeling for a place within a few minutes of walking into it, or you lose them,” JDL principal Jim Letchinger explains. The stats back him up; a new study from Zoopla, a leading UK real estate site, shows that it takes buyers an average of just 27 minutes to decide to buy a property. And nearly 25 percent are quicker, knowing when a home is right in 10 minutes or less.
Given the stakes, Letchinger went all out on the redevelopment. Facelifts for amenities and apartments turned into major overhauls. The units also grew in size and went from dated to downright dazzling. He brought in Lagrange’s namesake design firm, Jessica Lagrange Interiors (JLI), because “they get luxury and are really talented. So I told them to do what they wanted.”
“Jim gave us perfect canvases to paint,” Lagrange says. Working from the ground up, his team redid all the amenities and lobby, opened up unit walls to take advantage of the floor-to-ceiling windows, and combined smaller units to create more open, spacious places. The airy new apartments also got upgraded fixtures and appliances and sumptuous marble kitchens and bathrooms, all chosen to further a sleek, more modern aesthetic.
The result? “We had these clean, beautiful, bright spaces with a very modern vibe, so we had to be very strategic to differentiate them. We chose to do two very dierent design schemes in the models—one that’s lighter, brighter and more classic in the three-bedroom unit for a young family, and one that’s sexy and more smoldering in a two-bedroom for a couple of any age,” says Lagrange, whose acumen and talent were recognized in October by the Chicago design community with her induction into The Merchandise Mart’s Hall of Fame.
Speed was of the essence; JLI had about three months to complete the units. So stylish furniture, opulent area rugs and gilt-encrusted lighting fixtures and accessories from Restoration Hardware were used to anchor the units. They were complemented by attention-grabbing wall and window treatments using fabrics and wall coverings from the Merchandise Mart, such as kicky hand-painted wallpapers and graphic yet gossamer floor-to-ceiling drapes, which gave each apartment a bespoke demeanor.
The units JLI designed are playful and chic, but also so obviously comfortable and functional that they showcase the apartments’ new streamlined, versatile layouts and outstanding kitchens and bathrooms. “I’ve seen a lot of models in my career, and these are relevant and beautiful,” says Jameson Sotheby’s Vice President Nancy Tassone, who heads JDL Development’s sales.
The completion of the units did the trick: An initial spate sold immediately, but Letchinger and his investors soon changed strategies, realizing that the income from marketing the units as luxury rentals would be even more profitable than selling them (units ranged from $715,000 for a one-bedroom to $3.35 million for a five-bedroom). “It was purely a financial decision,” he explains. “There are so few new luxury rentals in the Gold Coast that we’re going to keep leasing while demand is so strong.”